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Safety? Or Profitability?

Your first visit from the local machinery safety inspector can be a source of panic. The rules seem excessive and even a cause of offshoring. I have found over and over, however, that there’s always a way to come out ahead.

Done right, there’s no reason to settle for less than safe and profitable too.

Do accidents only happen to careless workers?

There’s a dangerous attitude among some managers. Many say that good employees don’t have accidents; or that they mostly happen when machine operators are not careful. So they create fines and fatalities trying to just barely comply or by ignoring the rules altogether.

Machinery manufacturers sometimes make things worse, designing and selling equipment that is unsafe in the first place. Even deadlier, they defend it off-the-record with statements like, “we all know you’d have to be stupid to have an accident with this”. Small business owners, painfully aware of their bottom line start buying into the implication that there’s no way to be safe and still make money; or that you could if you could only find good people these days.

Eliminating process waste improves safety and the bottom line

Production managers need to see the opportunity in safety-related improvements. Using a machine is just a way to transform material into a processed state, but it’s part of something larger. Analyzing not just the machine but its related processes from a Lean efficiency point of view will uncover time- and labor-saving opportunities.

Improving the use of a machine always leads to a more effective factory, especially when using the Lean disciplines of SMED and 5S and focusing on eliminating waste in other ways. Combining these exercises with risk analysis can lead to more effective workstations as well as satisfying the local Health & Safety requirements. In this way you’re using government regulation as a lever, providing an additional business case item to drive improvements you need to be doing anyways.

You’ll get out what you put in

When I deliver this as a talk I sometimes lose my Production Management audiences here. The premise comes up that changes to machines are still too restrictive or expensive. I would argue that done properly, this never needs to be the case. Granted, you have to be willing to do some research and discuss with the operators, but there’s always a way to make equipment safe without slowing the team down. You may need to find an imaginative designer, and you might need the services of a sheet metal shop to fabricate some parts, but there’s always a way to guard just what you need to. The only way to really mess things up is to buy off-the-shelf equipment without taking the processes into account.

Intentionally designing the processes that involve machinery always results in improvement. With the sheer volume of information readily available today on the Internet, there’s really no excuse to settle for a solution that slows you down. The only thing you really have to provide is the right attitude: go into each project with the assumption that there is always a better way.

Ethically beating the offshore competition

There are very real challenges to face in making factories both profitable and safe, but there are always possibilities. The neat thing is, when we take a wider view and focus on process efficiency, we win on both counts. This really helps develop a sustainable manufacturing facility, less vulnerable to having its work outsourced overseas.

Less likely to end up promoting the use of unprotected labor in countries with less regard for human life.